Culture Clips: Nostalgia Cuts Both Ways

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Nostalgia is big business. If it’s been a hit in the last century, whether on the big screen or small, someone in Hollywood is figuring out a way to reboot, repackage or relaunch it. That’s because familiar entertainment properties from the past pack built-in marketing muscle, full of yesteryear’s fond memories.

Disney, of course, has a corporate Ph.D. in milking nostalgia. And in the past few years, the Mouse House has minted a new strategy for capitalizing on that past glory: releasing live-action versions of beloved animated classics.

The movie list thus far, most of which have been both critical and commercial darlings, includes Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, Beauty and the Beast and Christopher Robin. And in the next few years, get ready for lively new versions of Mary Poppins Returns, Dumbo, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Lady and the Tramp, Mulan, Cruella, Prince Charming, Peter Pan and Fantastia.

Oh, and a little film called, um, what was it called again? Oh yes, The Lion King. Let’s talk about that one for a moment, shall we?

If you’re wondering how big the culture’s collective appetite is for new version of Simba’s story, well, the massive online response to the film’s first trailer answers that question. Variety reports that a whopping 224.6 million people viewed the trailer in its first 24 hours online—a number second only to the 238 million people who watched the Avengers: Infinity War trailer. (Also Disney, and also a franchise with a multi-decade history.)

Truly, the past is a force to be reckoned with.

Well, sometimes.

Just ask Murphy Brown. CBS’s reboot of the progressive, newsy sitcom starring Candice Bergen was reportedly only ever going to be a one-season, 13-episode affair. But one suspects if it had been a runaway ratings hit, the show would have been picked up for a second season. It wasn’t. It hasn’t been renewed, according the Hollywood Reporter, underperforming expectations for a classic series once again trying to mine current political events for publicity’s sake.

Another property from the past that seems beyond the power of nostalgia to resuscitate? Yup, that would be Robin Hood. Jamie Foxx’s megawatt star power wasn’t nearly enough to sell this reimagined version, with the $100 million film stealing away with just $14 million domestically. For those scoring at home, that makes Lionsgate’s iteration of this oft-told story the biggest box-office bomb of 2018.

Speaking of the box office, three other films that Plugged In mostly said good things about are generating a surprising number of think pieces about their messages and cultural significance. Chief among them is Ralph Breaks the Internet, of all films. Critics and commentators have been mining the Disney sequel for all kinds of messages about our society today.

Salon contributor Matthew Rozsa says the kids’ flick has “a lot to say about toxic online male behavior,” as well as offering “a smart satire about sexism, friendship and cyberspace.” The Atlantic’s David Sims’ take on the film is titled, “Ralph Breaks the Internet Offers a Chillingly Accurate Vision of Modern Life.” And Slate’s Sam Adams talks about the film’s oh-so-meta deconstruction of the entire Disney universe.

Creed II, the next iteration of the four-decade-plus Rocky franchise (we’re still not done with nostalgia), is also generating some heady commentary. The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer unpacks how this sequel and its predecessor have placed black characters at the center of the story here in a way rarely seen in American sports movies. He writes,

[Sylvester] Stallone’s decision to accede to fundamentally altering the most important fictional creation of his career, to elevate Apollo above Rocky as a fighter, and to make his journey subordinate to that of the young black man on the screen, is worthy of recognition.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Aisha Harris reports that star Michael B. Jordan’s latest turn as Adonis Creed continues to propel him into “the realm of other actors he has name-checked as having the careers he wishes to emulate: Washington, Smith, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Elsewhere at the multiplex, even though Plugged In liked the positive messages in yet another nostalgic relaunch, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, a few folks have been positively grinchy about its influence. Johnny Oleksinski opines that a “gutted Grinch is warping kids into weak-minded snowflakes.”

Back in the realm of the small screen, the once seemingly unstoppable horror of AMC’s The Walking Dead seems to be stumbling a bit more these days. The series’ mid-season Season 9 finale staggered to a new mid-season ratings low, attracting just 5.1 million viewers, a figure that’s off by nearly two thirds from Season 5’s peak of 14.8 million viewers.

Speaking of brains—OK, I wasn’t, but you know, zombies, brains, etc.—using GPS a lot might be influencing part of yours. Namely, the part that deals with spatial orientation. The Conversation‘s Jennifer M. Bernstein, who lectures on spatial science at the University of Southern California, writes:

All cultures practice wayfinding—sensing one’s environment for barriers to travel, then navigating spatially to a remote destination. … Research has established that mobile navigational devices, such the GPS embedded in one’s smartphone, make us less proficient wayfinders. Mobile interfaces leave users less spatially oriented than either physical movement or static maps. Handheld navigational devices have been linked to lower spatial cognition, poorer wayfinding skills and reduced environmental awareness.

Finally this week, it’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about Weight Watchers post-Turkey Day sign-ups. I’m talking about Baby Center’s annual list of baby-name trends. As we’ve seen in years past, pop culture plays a quantifiable role in what new parents choose to name new cherubs.

Five names this year got a bump from the video game Fortnite: Ramirez, Leviathan (yes … people are really naming their children that!), Bunny, Rogue and Dakota all saw surges. And parents are apparently still trying to keep up with the Kardashians too, with spikes in the number of parents choosing monikers that the trend-setting celeb family has picked for its kids, including Stormi, True, Chicago, Dream, Nori, Saint and Reign. Oh, and Kim and Kanye both saw sizeable leaps, too.

As for the top names for girls and boys? Well, Sophia and Jackson took those honors this year.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 12 days ago
Seth Rogan is the only reason that I might see Lion King. Other then that i'm not interested. 
-David The Clown
charitysplace 14 days ago
I don't need carbon copies of Disney films, least of all the flawless Lion King. It looks from the trailer like an exact copy. Unless they change it up somehow I doubt I'll see it more than once. (How can you ever replace Jeremy Irons as Scar?) 
Anonymous 14 days ago
We already had a good live action remake of The Lion King, it was called Black Panther.

-Evan
charitysplace 13 days ago
Yeah about an hour into that movie I looked at my boyfriend and we were both like "lion king!!!" Since it was basically very unoriginal, plot wise, I've never thought it worthy of all the hype.
Anonymous 13 days ago
I liked Black Panther, although I enjoyed it more as a more of an experiment in a unique style than I did as a superhero movie. Black Panther has some of the best art direction of any Marvel film I've seen. (Except for maybe Ragnarok, but I haven't seen that one yet.)
Lyn Chartowich 15 days ago
Still nobody has commented here! Am I gonna be the first comment?!
Anonymous 14 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I guess so!
(not really anything newsworthy this week I guess)